The Next Step

February 3, 2009

OFA. Obama for America or Organizing for America. Both retain the same man at the helm, but both of which have entirely different responsibilities. One created a movement that started in Illinois nearly two years ago as a scrappy insurgency running against a well oiled establishment. Now OFA 2.0 will become the establishment and will be utilized to run a government which has been considered detached and removed from mainstream America.

His presidential campaign was able to harness a movement of millions that rallied around hope and change in order to take the nation. Now with that goal having already been established, it is now a question of what will come of the tenets of that campaign platform. How will hope, change and unity find its home in Washington D.C., a city known for its elite and old-hat politicians, academics, and lobbyists. And the start of that transition, which started November 4th in Grant Park has moved to the Democratic National Committee. The official transition was one of filling a government with officials and initiatives to hit the ground running at 12:01 PM on January 20th, but now there is a new transition in how the politics employed by the Democrats in the 2008 election will be able to perservere between election cycles.

After the 2004 election, Howard Dean brought his new internet age politics with him after his election to Chairman of the DNC. He instilled his idea of building virtual networks of motivated Democrats with the revamped voter files, in pursuit of his ambitious and controversial 50 state plan. This was the precursor of modern grassroots politics. The Obama campaign, using those ideas as a stepping stone, revolutionized and reinvigorated grassroots politics–creating formal and informal networks that brought together Americans of all ages, races, and demographics to campaign for Barack Obama.

Now he is in the oval office, yet he still has this gargantuan network at his disposal. It is unlike any opportunity for a new President. With money still in campaign coffers, and the new institution known as Organizing for America operating right off of Capitol Hill, the future is murky. There are early indications of how President Obama will be able to use these tools. In the recent fight for stimulus, the Obama White House has set its sights on using the power and fervor of their campaign supporters to push Representatives and Senators to vote in favor of the plan. This was seen in the recent letter and push from the President to his supporters to hold the campaign commonplace of “house-parties” in favor of the stimulus. So this new institution, wielding an e-mail list of millions is now being pledged to helping govern the unwieldy United States.

Yet, the question becomes how will OFA 2.0 use American voices to govern. The start came with the Transition when transition officials sought to bring in opinions from ordinary Americans to present to the President on day one as a platform for government. Now, many have argued that this not necessarily the most feasible practice–after all the infiltration of certain special-interest groups, the overbearance of certain individuals, and the lack of supervision all provide trouble. Yet it is truly a start. It is something that has not been tried out before, and in the end it might not work. The resonance of the benefits of a representative democracy might hold true, but at least people are getting involved. People are presenting ideas and through the plethora of ideas that may come forward-one, maybe even just one, idea may pull through and become a great new policy for the US government. Whether it be presented by an expert or by an American that works in the health-care industry that is frustrated by their employers and sees a way to change the institutions.

In the end, what is vital to this OFA 2.0 is that it is going to have to be a place where Americans can change the way they look at Barack Obama. Prior to the Democratic National Convention, the onslaught of ‘celebrity’ references stirred up what might be trouble for then Candidate Obama. And though a vicious and off-topic campaign message, that message has stuck and it can be seen through today. After the new President accepted his opponent’s concession, the shift was being made from a man seeking approval for approval’s sake to a man seeking approval to run his agenda. And so, even if the new interface of creating a way for Americans to get involved in governing is not effective right off the bat for policymaking–it will be effective for President Obama. It will be a chance to move the campaign support of a man, to a support of an administration of an agenda and of a view for the country. The mega-events will only come ever so often for Obama supporters, and so the use of the network to allow the millions of Americans to start thinking of President Obama in the realm of governing is important. A lot of supporters it can be shown have not thought of politics like that for a while, only getting involved once every four years to kick someone out of office or to elect a guy that could blow the doors off an arena.

If only OFA 2.0 can keep Americans tuned in to policies and the work of the government, America will be changed for the better. Because civic virtue and awareness is never bad, and with increased civic involvement in our governments: from local to state to federal; the politics of hope might really bring about that change.

–Michael Mandell


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